It's not surprising that Laura Veirs fills her engrossing, always-inventive chamber-pop songs with elements from the physical world: fire and shadow, gold and galaxies, wind and clouds, tides and gravity.
The Seattle-based singer-songwriter was trained as a scientist--a geologist to be exact--before she had what she has called an epiphany. During a geological expedition in China, she realized with sudden clarity that her longtime casual interest in music was pointing the way to a career.
Accompanied by her backing band, the Tortured Souls, Veirs will perform at Plush on Saturday, Nov. 12, as part of a concert tour to promote her fifth album, Year of Meteors. The acts Cyril and Great Lake Swimmers are scheduled to open the show.
Veirs' music has evolved from the stark folk-country hybrids of six years ago through Americana and neo-traditional country, to embrace the quasi-experimental, fully-arranged pop-rock masterpieces of recent CDs.
Upon returning home from that fateful trip to China, Veirs got to work, creating two homemade, self-released recordings. Her raw 1999 debut, simply titled Laura Veirs, was recorded in three hours with just voice and guitar. The Triumphs and Travails of Orphan Mae, which followed in 2001, received tentative notice and praise from Seattle print and radio.
A big break came the next year at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas, where Simon Raymonde, formerly of the Cocteau Twins, caught Veirs' performance. He signed her to his Bella Union label.
The result was Troubled by the Fire, which was released in 2003, attracting increased attention from the music cognoscenti--Jon Pareles of The New York Times, Nic Harcourt's show Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW in Los Angeles, and No Depression and NME magazines.
With such accolades, Veirs had to sink or swim--either live up to the hype or fade away quietly. She chose the former, making last year's marvelous, haunting and universally acclaimed Carbon Glacier and this year's excellent follow-up, Year of Meteors.
Both of those albums were released by the daring boutique label Nonesuch Records, which has long released modern classical and avant-garde jazz. This puts Veirs in rarified company, with label mates known for their unique visions: Laurie Anderson, Kronos Quartet, Buena Vista Social Club, Bill Frisell, Joshua Redman, Caetano Veloso, Brad Mehldau, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman and Wilco.
Like many of those artists, Veirs is a highly literate songwriter whose work reaches beyond the levels of pop product to aspire toward art.
She also follows one of the most important rules of creative writing: Show, don't tell. Instead of writing a song that says, "You broke my heart and I'm sad," she will set a scene in physical location and allow events and imagery to unfold in a naturalistic fashion, leaving room for the listener to make the ultimate decision about how to feel.
The New York Times must've agreed. That paper has said that Veirs' songs are, more appropriately, "poems: they're careful, word-conscious, narrative, neither foggy nor overwritten, and tend to give you a take on regular life experience that you don't quite expect."
On Year of Meteors, Veirs turns her attention to travel, both literally and figuratively. She even calls it a road record.
"All the songs are about transportation, motion," she says in a press release from her publicist.
"If you listen to the words, there's always some movement happening, whether it's greyhounds running down a mountainside as mud flows or a person flying off into the sun or someone lurking around the bottom of the sea. I think that's because I was in motion so much of the year. Somehow I knew all that traveling would come into the songs, but wanted to remain focused on the bigger things, not just life on the road, so that's why there are no direct references to that."
The bigger things are human relationships, according to Veirs' press release. She says, "There are love songs related to that experience, like the struggles of being away from home and your partner. Or having my band and the different relationships I have formulated, many of them very close because of the intense circumstances of touring. So it's a relationship record, too."